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Get the latest coverage of the 2024 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee.

A bill would change some rules for the Florida Commission on Ethics

City officials statewide are now required to provide detailed information about their assets, liabilities, sources of income and net worth
City officials statewide are now required to provide detailed information about their assets, liabilities, sources of income and net worth.

The Florida House is set to consider legislation that will bring sweeping changes to the state’s Commission on Ethics.

The Senate has already approved legislation that would impact the group tasked with investigating ethics complaints against elected officials and public employees in Florida. The bill adds time limits to the length of ethics investigation, bans complaints emerging from anonymous sources, and allows those running for public office to seek civil damages when someone files a fraudulent complaint.

On the Senate floor earlier this month, Democrats raised concerns about a section that will ban hearsay, a legal term for second-hand statements, from being used to launch an investigation. Palm Beach Democratic Senator Bobby Powell said that provision could pull the teeth from the bill.

“If individuals who are credible. Who are serving in a public position that we know that the public trusts, that have second-hand knowledge that their testimony, considering they are filing an affidavit, should not be rendered useless based on the fact that they went out on a limb to file it,” he said.

Zephyrhills Republican Senator Danny Burgess said the prohibition on second-hand statements is to prevent intentionally malicious complaints for political purposes.

“Somebody could call a tipline, hotline, pick up the phone and say “this person is doing x, y and z,” hang up the phone, then immediately maybe call the media and tip that off that a complaint was made then the whole thing spirals out of control," he said.

Despite some concerns about the bill, Democrats still got behind it. Hollywood Democratic Senator Jason Pizzo said the overall package was too good to not support.

“I’m voting for it because I’m salivating at the acceleration clause that you are basically putting in here. But the hearsay thing I think is a problem, and I think you might hear that from a number of people outside of this chamber who work on this stuff,” he said.

Several ethics professionals have raised that concerns with the bill. The commission itself opposes several elements, like the hearsay prohibition. Commission on Ethics Chair Ashley Lukis said during a committee hearing on the bill that the time limits could mean the commission will require more funding.

“Additional staff will be necessary to meet these timelines. Additional IT infrastructure will be necessary to meet these timelines,” she said.

A similar bill in the House does not include several of the Senate provisions, like the Hearsay section. However, the House could decide to replace its version with the Senate one in coming days.

Tristan Wood is a senior producer and host with WFSU Public Media. A South Florida native and University of Florida graduate, he focuses on state government in the Sunshine State and local panhandle political happenings.